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Observer | China no exception: More modernization, more open attitudes towards globalization

Editor:Chen Aimei and Su Zhenhua Author: Chen Aimei and Su Zhenhua Date:2023-12-29 19:19:10 Hits:10

Data from the Chinese General Social Survey spanning 2008-2021 shows that the impact of China's modernization on public attitudes towards globalization is a non-linear process. Over the course of China's transition to modernization, public attitudes towards globalization have undergone a journey of initial rejection followed by acceptance.

In the last several decades, China has been increasingly closely involved with the international community during the process of reform and opening-up.

On the one hand, Chinese people feel the strong competitiveness of developed countries. On the other hand, the rapid economic development of China has also given rise to discourses such as the China threat theory, leading to a degree of wariness towards certain countries in some Chinese people in the 1990s. However, within the broader context of China's economic growth and social development, this may not truly reflect the mainstream sentiment.

As American political scientist Lucian Pye observed, modernization embodies cosmopolitan values and universalistic norms. In Pye's opinion, unlike European countries, Chinese attitudes toward globalization and modernization are mutually exclusive: the stronger the modernization, the stronger the Chinese people's rejection of other countries.

It must be noted that Pye made this assertion based on an analysis of the characteristics of Chinese historical changes, lacking empirical analysis of micro-level samples. If we analyze data such as the World Values Survey and the Chinese General Social Survey, it will be found that Pye's assertions are incorrect. In fact, as higher education became more accessible and incomes rose across the board in China, the Chinese people more actively embraced globalization.

Specifically, on the economic front, there is a growing acknowledgment of the universal principles of international trade, with a desire for increased trade relations with other countries. On the social front, there is an increasing acceptance of interactions and collaboration with people from other countries.

Culturally, there is a belief that contact with other cultures through movies, music, or books benefits the development of Chinese culture. Even at the political level, there is a departure from the notion that China's interests are the highest value criterion, with a growing recognition of the need to respect the interests of other countries.

That is to say, with continuous globalization and modernization, the exclusivism of the Chinese people is gradually weakening, giving way to increasingly open and inclusive attitudes.

The reason for this transformative shift is, in essence, straightforward.

In the early stages of modernization, traditional Chinese social order and people's daily social lives suffered increasing disruptions, leading to a natural emergence of exclusionary sentiments. However, as the benefits of modernization spread throughout Chinese society, yielding more significant advantages for all Chinese people to varying degrees, there was a corresponding inclination towards an increasing acceptance of globalized modernization.

If you read carefully Western theorists such as Emile Durkheim, Ronald Inglehart, Alex Inkeles and so on, you will find they implicitly expound upon this theory.

Inkeles asserts that the process of modernization propels the formation of individuals with modern concepts, who progressively embrace new ideas and things while relinquishing traditional concepts.

This transformative shift is, in reality, a quietly normal phenomenon within the progress of modernization, evident in developed and developing countries that have completed modernization.

Data from the World Values Survey collected ranging 1982-2022 supports this observation, with most developing countries, such as South Africa, Mexico, Argentina and Serbia, displaying a similar trend of initially heightened and subsequently diminishing rejection of globalization. China is no exception to this pattern of modernization.

On their way to modernization, more and more people will change their perceptions and gradually give up exclusivist thoughts to become conceptually modern individuals.

This foreshadows mainstream public opinion that in the future, Chinese society will actively accept and embrace globalization.

In general, such public opinion determines that China is not a force threatening world peace but a champion for neighborly and friendly exchanges among countries.

(Chen Aimei is a PhD student at Zhejiang University College of Media and International Culture; Su Zhenhua is a professor at Zhejiang University College of Media and International Culture.)

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